Zootopia – Where Anyone Can be Anything
Saturday – 11:01 PM – Overcast Skies / Pouring Rain w/Occasional Gusts
"I'm still mad at you." Murana looked rather pitiful, even in the imposing Dark Flame Wolf garb she had on. The rain was pelting their fur ferociously and it was getting harder and harder to see through the watery haze at the rising Iron Vulture.
"At the tracking devices I put in your suits? Relax, it's mainly for my benefit in the unlikely event you die in the field and I need to find and reclaim my work. No one has access to its frequency except for me. I just don't want my stuff in the hands of the wrong people." Billy finished securing the final communication piece in her ear, fastening it on with a clip. "Can you hear me now?"
"Loud and clear." She grumbled, his voice resounding deep into her skull. "That doesn't make me feel any better. It's almost like you expect me to fail every time I go out."
Billy shrugged as he walked over to check and adjust the ear pieces for Ralph, Ron and Max. "It's just the line of business we're in, Murana. I expect you to come back, but I also plan for the off chance you don't. Besides, you are far more adept than I am at chasing down and taking out these pirates. I've seen what they are capable of and may I remind you that I am no fighter. I'm a tinkerer, not a warrior."
"Fine, so how are you going to get home if you're leaving your motorcycle with me?" She looked over at the upgraded piece of hardware kicked up on its stand on the side of the road.
"We're actually going to follow close behind you as best we can." Billy gestured to Ralph.
"We are?" Ralph was quite unaware of this plan.
"Between the three of them, they can all fit on the motorcycle and catch up to that airship far faster than we can by going the roads. She just keeps us informed where it is heading and we do our best to meet them there to provide backup." At a look from Ralph, Billy reached up as far as he could to pat the wildebeest on the arm. "Whether you like it or not, you're in this together with us, buddy. Let's focus on getting those kits back home safely. We can deal with the legalities of all this later."
"It's started to move!" Max put a paw up to his ear so they could hear him.
Billy rolled his eyes. "You don't have to press any buttons, Max. It's not like in the movies. Just talk normally and the rest of us can hear you. These things have a max range of five miles, so we should be good on comms for this."
"He's right." Murana hooked a leg over the cycle and patted the seat behind her. "We need to get a move on if we're going to catch up to it."
"You sure you want me behind you again?" Ron vaulted himself up onto the space right behind her, placing an arm on either side to grip tight.
"As long as you promise not to stab me again." Murana lifted an elbow to allow Max to slither up in front of her and sit between her legs. She enclosed her arms on either side of his head. It was a tight fit for all three of them, but the diminutive sizes of two of the passengers made it manageable.
Billy stepped up beside her as she revved up the engine, getting ready to peel off down the road. "Murana, I've been working on this bike for you for a long time. It's not fully tested and some features may not be functional, but I guarantee most of it will work."
"That's comforting." She huffed, twisting the handle to rev it louder.
Billy pointed directly at the barrier wall to the northwest leading towards Downtown Central. "It seems it is heading that way. I advise you to press this button and go directly across the sand. When you get close to the wall, pop a wheelie and press that button. You'll understand if you aim it right." Not waiting for questions, he handed a pair of wrist cuffs to Max. "Secure these on now, little guy. Murana has what she needs to get from place to place built into her suit, but if you want to keep up, you'll need these." He finally turned to Ron, "I didn't account for a third. I got nothing for you."
"Brilliant." Ron thumped his tail on the back of the cycle. "Not like I'll need help."
"That's the spirit." Billy smirked. "We'll follow behind as close as we can." He waved them off as he walked back to get into the car with Ralph, who was already behind the driver's wheel listening to them and waiting.
Murana could hear Ralph grilling Billy as soon as he got into the cruiser. "Who are you again?"
"An old acquaintance." Billy seemed content not to say any more.
"Cut the chatter!" Murana commanded as she zoomed off the side of the road, catching some sick air as the embankment dropped down steeply.
Landing hard on the sand with a jolt, she pushed the button Billy instructed her to. Within seconds, small studs popped out on the tires and gripped the free-flowing sand like asphalt. The three of them were quickly zipping along the dunes, roaring over the hills and accelerating down the slopes. Several times, she could feel the tight claws gripping her sides whenever they hit a rough patch. Her eyes were ever on the Iron Vulture, which was strangely going slower than she remembered. Either something was wrong with it or their fixes weren't as perfect as Karnage hoped.
"The wall is coming up fast!" Ron reminded, tapping a claw on the ribcage opposite the one he stabbed. At least he was aware and nice about it.
Recalling what Billy said, she rumbled the engine and popped a wheelie, their front going high into the air. The headlight pointing directly at the top of the wall, she pressed the other button mentioned and a huge grappling hook shot out of the front panel just above the headlight. It spiraled up to the peak, latching onto some bar or pipes securely, causing a taut pull on the motorcycle. Before they knew it, they were vertical, scaling the gigantic border wall on two wheels.
"This is amazing!" Max was whooping. He never had this much fun. Even if the rain was flooding his mouth at the moment, he couldn't deny the awesomeness of this moment.
"Not so much for me!" Ron yelped, literally hanging onto Murana for dear life, his own thighs squeezing hard on the seat to keep him in place.
"Impressive, Billy." Murana commented, increasing their speed.
"Why, thank you. I'm glad I went back to get this for you." He seemed pleased with himself.
"Where is it heading?" Ralph was anxious to get this over with. Murana couldn't blame him. His life seemed to be completely upended the moment he set foot in Zootopia.
Murana pushed the same button again, which jettisoned the cable as they reached the top. She squealed and rounded the motorcycle into a spin to get herself to stop as she put a hind paw to the deck to reorient herself. Scanning the skyline, she saw the dark shape of the Vulture light up when a flash of lightning streaked over the rooftops, hitting the dish atop it.
"As if a normal rainstorm isn't bad enough." Ron didn't seem to like the situation.
Max looked over the other side of the wall down into Savannah Central. The entire walkway above the dividing wall was big enough to potentially house two giraffe-sized cars side by side, plenty of room to maneuver for their small bike. Murana eyed their destination and picked a route quickly, kicking up her paw and barreling down the center.
"So how are we going to get down?" Max asked the sensible question.
"We're not." Murana fired back, determination in her voice.
"Why do I not like the sound of that?" Ron nestled his head into the small of her back.
"I thought you were some big-shot assassin? This should be nothing to you." She ribbed, clearly enjoying the otter's discomfort.
"I never did these sort of death-defying stunts to get to my practice targets. I was always more of a 'get up close and personal and strike when they least expect it' sort of guy. This is not what I trained for." Ron's voice was a bit higher-pitched than normal.
"You could have always stayed on the ground with Billy." She chuckled, her eyes focused forward.
"And miss another potential shot at reclaiming my job position at the bank? Never!" He quivered with indignation. "I'd prefer something like that than this ever again, my father be damned!"
"You're still fired. I've yet to think about rescinding that decision." Murana responded thoughtfully.
"Chatter." Billy reminded from the car below.
"Shut up." Murana could almost hear the giggle from the fox on the other end.
The Vulture was beginning to loom ahead of them. Its imposing bulk was just crossing over the wall, still too high up for them to actually make the leap. They needed to get higher than its current elevation before they would be safe to make the transition to the ship. A buzzing in the air made their fur stand up on end as crackling was distinctly heard from above. The rail cannons at the front of the Vulture were being aimed towards them.
"Hold on tight!" Murana swerved hard, nearly bringing them to the edge as a bolt of lightning shattered the side of the wall, sending debris and chunks of deadly concrete to the city below.
"There is a building in front of us!" Max pointed out.
Weaving left to avoid yet another surge of electricity, Murana noticed the wall making a hard right to the east, ending their forward momentum right at the foot of a tall skyscraper in the heart of downtown. Glancing off to her left, there was a smaller building with sloped roofing that arced upwards, a far better choice than the straight vertical option ahead of them. She didn't want to chance that Billy packed a second hook cable in the bike.
"Ron, don't fall off." She tightened the grip of her hips on both the motorcycle and around Max as she jerked the bike hard to the left.
They bumped over the lip of the wall and soared through the air, slamming down on the reinforced glass, cracking it slightly. Gunning the engine, she peeled off towards the next roof, trying to reach the apex of the current to get the most hang time from each jump, crossing beneath the underbelly of the Vulture in the process. Max was hollering with joy as Ron was clawing at her in terror.
"Where is your location?" Ralph's voice seemed curt.
"We're traveling across the rooftops in a northwesterly direction. It appears to be crossing downtown and heading to the Rainforest District. It's moving abnormally slow." Murana informed.
"That's good for us then." Billy breathed a sigh of relief.
"You mammals are nuts!" Ralph thought the entire situation was insane.
"We're coming up on a building that might be tall enough for us to cross over." Murana vibrated her whole body to shake off the water coating it, her instinct taking over the futility of the action.
Without waiting for permission, she blasted off the side of the closest roof ledge to the Vulture. They could barely make out the interior through the portholes on the side of the primary metal structure beneath the dirigible ballast balloons. She was aiming for the side balcony that was jutting out on the side of the central hangar to the right of the Vulture's beak.
"Ah, shit!" She nearly lost control as a pirate burst out of the oval airlock door and began firing on them with a machine gun.
Bullets shattering the glass windows and puncturing air conditioning vents rushing past them, she took the risk and gunned the engines hard. Ramping off a construction girder, the spinning front wheel connected with the pirate's face, crushing his entire body onto the deck. Losing control of the motorcycle, they tipped and tumbled over in a somersault, scattering out across the balcony.
"Report. What's going on?" Ralph was insistent.
"Fucking peachy." Murana groaned, the throbbing in her ribs peeking through the painkillers. "We're on the Iron Vulture. It still seems to be heading for Rainforest."
"Got it. Try to take it down from inside, see if you can steer it away from the city if you can." Billy clicked off, his and Ralph's transmitters going silent. It seemed whatever he wanted to say to Ralph next, he wanted them not to hear.
"That was a bit rude." Ron waddled up next to Murana, addressing the radio cutoff. He helped her shove the dead pirate body off the side, watching it tumble to the streets below.
Murana did another shake to try and remove the water from her fur and suit, "I'm sure he has his reasons. I've been working with Billy long enough to trust him."
She backed up against the side of the Vulture, grateful to now have the ballast balloons sheltering them from the worst of the storm. She peeked in through the half open door to see they were high above the bay, opening out onto a catwalk. There was a huge bustle of activity down below. The ratio of children to pirates was imbalanced, but the adults were keeping the majority in line with trained weapons as the little ones scurried about doing tasks in preparation for leaving the city.
Her eyes followed the catwalk to the far end where several grated stairs led to and from various floors of the arching hangar. Without looking at either of them, Murana instructed, "Max, I want you with me. We're going to scout out the captain's quarters and then move down to the holding cells until we find Steven. He's got to be here somewhere."
"And what will I do?" Ron was peering in from the other side of the door.
"If I remember right," She pointed towards the far end of the spacious interior opposite them, past the mass body of moving mammals, "the engine room should be beyond that portal door."
"It'll be the second door on the left with stairs leading down." Max clarified.
Murana stared at Max as she continued her orders, "All I need is for you to put a wrench into the gears, as it were, so that the ship stops functioning in about fifteen minutes. That should put us past the majority of Zootopia and have it crash just outside the city limits, minimizing casualties."
"All by myself?" Ron wiped his glasses on an miraculously still dry handkerchief from his pants pocket. "I'm honored you think so highly of my skills to let me go on my own."
"Don't give yourself too much credit. I just don't want to let Max out of my sight right now and you're more expendable." She turned to look at him with a grin.
"Noted. I know where I stand." He returned the smile before whipping out two small daggers.
"Where did you get…?" Murana shook her head. "You know what? It doesn't matter. Just get to that engine room and set us down within fifteen minutes. They haven't noticed we're aboard yet, so the element of surprise is with us. Go!"
Leaving the motorcycle on its side behind them, they darted through the opening and scampered quietly down the metal catwalk. Ron branched off and twirled his way down the circling staircase. Quickly flitting from crate to crate, his assassin skills were on full display. Confident he'd get the job done, Murana signaled Max to follow as they made their way to Karnage's bed chambers.
"They haven't spotted us yet." Max's eyes were roving around, keeping watch as they slinked up to the closed door, its porthole the only visible peek into the room.
"Probably because they're too busy getting out of dodge to focus on having stowaways." She crouched low as the entire structure shook. Their ears popped as another lightning bolt was fired from the Vulture. "Looks like they're finding new targets now." She murmured, getting on her tiptoes to check the room.
After verifying it was safe, she slowly opened the door and checked the corners of the room. It was as she remembered it. The only difference was the small corpse at the foot of Karnage's four-poster bed. Max broke off from her as he knelt down next to the wolf and put a paw on his cold cheek. He was still for a long while.
"Was that a friend of yours?" Murana leaned over to look at him. She recognized the signs of a missing soul, the eyes rolled up into the head.
Max denied it, "No, just someone who was punished for us leaving."
Murana's face drew into a scowl as she pursed her lips, "Well, we're here now to prevent this from happening to anyone else."
She got on both knees and picked the locks, unshackling the cub from the floor. Lifting him up in her arms, she unfurled the blankets and reverently set the tiny wolf onto the bed, his frame sinking in slightly. She tucked him in, adjusted the pillows and shut his eyelids. She made it look like he was resting peacefully, about to awaken at any moment.
"This is the best grave I can offer him right now." She pressed a hand on the wolf's forehead and said a small prayer. Finishing, she surveyed the room. "Steven isn't here. Let's check the rest of the hold."
Closing the door behind her so as to not arouse suspicion if anyone happened to look up in their direction, she padded down the metal-grated catwalk. Taking a moment to observe the proceedings below, she grew incensed at the treatment of the kits. They were doing the finishing touches on strapping down the cargo, but were being pushed and prodded roughly by the pirate crew. There was even one unfortunate calf being beaten in the corner for some unknown transgression.
Feeling a tug on her sleeve, she followed the line of Max's finger as he pointed to the landing below them. "They kept me up here near Karnage, but the rest of those they locked away were down there in those rooms."
"It's amazing you remember so much about this layout. You weren't even here for two days." She whispered, dropping down from the ledge and alighting softly on the walkway below, extending her arms to catch Max as he hopped down as well.
"I can usually find my way around really quickly after one visit to someplace new." Max informed without giving it much credence.
"That's a fantastic skill." She complimented, taking a quick look into each room as they passed down the row.
Murana made a small sound of excitement when her eyes recognized the familiar black and white of her son, locked away behind the bulkhead door. She could feel the adrenaline tapering off as she gripped the wheel on the front and began to exert her muscles in twisting it counter-clockwise. Both her and Max's ears perked up as someone called them out from across the way.
"Hey! It's the little twerp and his mom!" The skirling screech belonged to none other than Mad Dog, already gathering a small contingent of crewmen to follow him up the staircase to their level.
"Murana, I think we need to hurry it up." Max reached back with a hind paw and tapped her on the leg, his eyes tracking the pirate's ascent.
"Stay close to me, Max." She grunted, undoing the last turns of the wheel, hearing a substantial clunk as the lock disengaged, allowing the door to give a little.
"Let me handle them." He looked confident.
She paused, inspecting him from top to bottom. "Max, Billy didn't give you any weapons to work with. It's dangerous."
"He gave me these!" Looking up at her mask, he held out his wrists to show her the two bands he was given earlier.
She smiled at his innocence, "Honey, those aren't weapons. They're grappling hooks for mobility. They could work in a pinch, but I wouldn't recommend them."
"I want to help. Please let me help." His eyes shifted subtly, but Murana could tell he was staring directly at her now.
Murana bit her lower lip for a few moments, hearing the racket the pirates were making. They were almost level with them. Firm resolution settling in, she opened up a clamp plating on her belt, pulled out several kunai blades and handed them to Max. "I know it isn't much, but combined with your hooks, you should be able to do some damage. Just…don't take unnecessary risks. If anything goes wrong, meet me back at the balcony with the motorcycle."
Hooking his fingers through the metal hoops at the ends of each blade, he gave a surprising, brief hug to her before running down the catwalk towards the pirates. Murana watched from a distance a few moments longer to see if he was going to be alright.
In a single bound, Max leapt from the grating, hit the railing and jumped off towards the spiral staircase. Pressing a button to fire out a hook to latch onto the flooring he had just left, he pounded hindpaw first into the pirate just behind Mad Dog, launching the canine ass over end down several stories to a satisfying crunch on the metal deck below. Using the momentum and the swinging velocity of his cable, he arced around the stairs and landed on the steps just above the lead pirate before retracting the cable back into his wristband. Its barbed hook slashed the cheek of another pirate on its return trip.
"Mom…? Is that you?" The tentative voice broke Murana's vigil over Max.
"Baby?" She cried out with relief. She tore into the room and saw her son getting up on all fours on his cot, his attention directed at her. Swooping him up in a hug, she gave him loving licks from ear to nose. "I'm here, baby! I'm not going to let you out of my sight again. Did they hurt you? I'm going to kill them!" She was furious.
"I'm fine…they didn't do anything to me." Steven pawed at the back of her neck. "They just tossed me in here and locked the door. I haven't eaten or drank anything since then."
"Bastards." Murana growled. At a yelp from outside, she propped Steven back onto his paws. "Come on, we have to help your brother. He's outside buying us some time."
"He's adopted now?" Steven said wide-eyed.
"Not yet, but he might as well be." She beamed.
Max had definitely done just that. The time bought was necessary, as it seemed the only pirate left standing was Mad Dog. The surly weasel of a canine was swiping at the raccoon with his spiked bracers, pounding the railings and flooring, snarling as he was narrowly missing Max by inches each time. It seemed Max was enjoying himself at annoying Mad Dog.
"Stay still, you little runt! Let me hit you!" Mad Dog was near frothing at trying to strike the deft raccoon.
Sensing her success behind him, Max looked back to Murana. "Look! I said I could help you!" He was extremely proud of himself.
Several anguished screams erupted from beneath them. Murana looked down and pointed. "But your actions didn't help them!"
All their eyes riveted to the horrific scene below. Several pirates whom Max had booted off and killed from the fall were back on their feet alive again. Each had zeroed in on the nearest child, their soul being drained to add more life to the pirate that stole it. Murana was wrathful as she saw each little body crumple to the floor lifeless. The rest of the kits were shrieking. Pandemonium had broken out as all of them scattered trying to escape the adults.
"Max! Look out!" It was Steven who had spotted that Mad Dog was aiming a small musket directly at Max's head.
"Time to die, you little shit!" Mad Dog looked triumphant, finally getting back at the annoying captain's pet.
Reacting fast, Max ducked low and did a sweeping roundhouse kick to the legs of Mad Dog. The pirate stumbled and pitched over the side, but not before reaching out and grabbing a pawful of Max's tail. A genuine look of fear washed over Max's face as he tried to grasp onto the slotted flooring and was pulled over the edge with Mad Dog. His arm strength was no match for the heavier weight and he let go, both falling to the deck half a dozen meters below.
"Max! No!" Murana howled. She could probably make the fall down herself, but she couldn't take the risk with Steven in tow nor take the stairs since that would bring them too close to the nearest group of pirates. Hauling him onto her like a backpack, she ran to the far end of the catwalk. "Hang onto me, Steven. Don't let go!"
Feeling her son's tiny paws grip her tight, she undid a hook from her belt and fastened it to the lower bar of the railing before springing over the side, wrapping her leg around the cable to stabilize herself. Pressing a button on her belt, she uncoiled the entire length as she rappelled the distance to the base floor. Paws touching solid ground, she tapped another button to unhook it from her belt, since she wasn't planning on coming back to undo the cable.
Her eyes taking into account each of the pirates on the floor near her, who were slowly becoming aware of her presence with them, she hurried to the last known position she saw Max fall. She skidded down to her knees behind a metal crate as she beheld the chilling scene. Max was shivering over the body of Mad Dog, the canine's eyes rolled up into his head. Max was crying, rocking back and forth with a shard of the totem clenched in his hand.
With a tear-stained face, he sniffled as he whimpered, "I didn't mean to do it…I didn't mean to do it."
However it happened, the struggle that occurred after their fall ended in Mad Dog's soul being torn from his body. Max was feeling the gravity of what he had done, inadvertently or not. This was the moment of his first true kill and it mortified him.
Murana wanted to do nothing more than to sweep him up in her arms and give him a big hug. She understood what he was going through. He needed someone who had been there to comfort him in his moment of existential grief. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Guns fired as bullets ricocheted off the steel flooring and walls around them.
"I'm sorry, Max." She scooped him up and, with both him and Steven in arm, she made a mad sprint towards the front beak-like bay door. Screeching to a halt, she roughly laid both boys down as she examined the levers on the wall. She went to a knee and gently tapped Max on the cheek to get his attention, "Hey, sweetie, can you tell me which one of these switches opens the door?" She was banking on the fact he had an excellent visual memory.
Stirring at her touch, he studied them and pointed to the one on the far left. "That one."
Murana yanked the lever down hard. A deep rumbling shook the entire Vulture as the maw began to slowly open, the sound of the rain outside getting louder. Her ears shot up as a howl was heard, followed swiftly by another and yet another. Every pirate seemed to rise in unison in a singular cry, regardless of species. Her tail was swishing erratically as she fought hard against the innate desire to join the howl.
"Ah-ha-ha, Murana. You are a naughty wolf." Don Karnage shouted through the din of voices. "The moment I discovered something was amiss, I knew you were behind it all. Who else but my former pet could do such vexing things?"
"You…were always…a bastard…" She gritted her teeth, her urge to howl rising.
She stepped in front of Max and Steven, putting a warding hand in front of them for protection. They were surrounded. It was either going through the horde of pirates or falling back and off the Vulture to plummet hundreds of feet to certain death. Her eyes pinpointed targets she could potentially take out quickly, but she knew it wouldn't be enough. They were overwhelmed and outgunned.
Karnage, looking youthful as ever, clucked his tongue as he became visible, his crew parting ways to give him entrance. He regarded Murana, now on her knees and fighting hard against her instinctual impulses. "Oh, that's right!" He mocked, tapping a finger to his cheek. "I had almost forgotten that wolves can't help themselves when it comes to howling! Can they? It's a pack thing, isn't it? Some sort of familial bonding? Well, the thing about foxes is, we're more like lone wolves than you are!"
He cackled before raising his chin high and howling himself. Murana couldn't hold it in anymore. She threw her own head back and let loose a long, mournful howl. She tried her best to push through the inner instinct, but it was overpowering. She let loose another one and kept going, her voice joining the chorus of the pirates.
Karnage pulled out the twin guns from his belt and pointed one at Max and Steven to prevent them from interfering. He placed the other on Murana's throat as she howled. "Good bye, pet. You were fun, but now our time is done."
His gun went off, the aim shifting right and narrowly missing her neck as the entire aircraft lurched to the left. Kits screamed as the choir of pirates instantly ceased. With the howling gone, Murana instantly took the opening and gripped Karnage's wrist. She snapped it with a flick, causing bone to crack and the Don to drop his gun.
Karnage yowled in misery, falling onto his rump and scooting backwards quickly toward the protection of his crew. "Get her! Kill her!" He shouted hysterically.
The pirates closed the gap, their captain disappearing among their numbers as they moved in to overpower and possibly rape, strangle or do any other manner of unseemly things. The entire aircraft trembled again as the Vulture yawed hard to the left, causing the already steep pitch to increase. Max started slipping away from her at an accelerated pace.
"Murana!" Max shouted, his paws reaching out for her. She went to make a grab, but he was already out of reach.
"Mom!" Steven yelled. She swung her paw up and grabbed him quickly, securing him close to her breast. She had no idea what Ron had done to the engine room, but it was more drastic than she had envisioned.
The ship started to level finally. She glanced back to look out the fully opened beak of the Vulture to see they were already over the Rainforest District, heading straight for The Docks on the other side. It wouldn't be long before they cleared the city entirely. An explosion rocked the aircraft, causing more terrified screams. Murana cursed as she felt the inexorable descent into the city. They weren't going to clear the outskirts.
With the immediate threat of their ship doing a nose dive abated, the pirates resumed their captain's order and went to bum rush the two of them. Max was knocked out at the far end of the bay, having smacked up head first against the steel siding. Flicking out a few metal rods, she tossed a few into the crowd, slicing through into their skulls via their eye sockets. As their bodies fell, more took their place. She wouldn't be able to take them down all by herself, and Steven was quivering beside her unable to help.
Murana looked down at her son and realized a solution. She picked him up and flicked him around under her arm. "I'm sorry, baby. Please forgive Momma." She appealed.
"Mom? What are you doing? What's happening?" Steven's face flushed a hard shade of crimson.
Murana had him perched under her arm, butt facing out into the group of pirates who had suddenly stopped, realizing the potential problem. Holding Steven's tail up with her other arm, she reached around underneath between his legs to shred his pants with her claws, exposing him embarrassingly.
"Sorry…" She whispered one last time.
With a lone but firm finger from the paw holding his tail, she pressed hard on a gland just above his anus, causing him to uncontrollably spray his putrid musk out across the distance spanning them and the pirates. Using the button controlling the potent gel mix in her belt, she pressed the button on her palm hard to have it flow through the tubing. The moment it made contact with Steven's spray from her wrist, it turned immediately into flames.
"Holy musk!" Steven cursed, surprising himself. His rump was incredibly hot and it felt uncomfortably scalding, yet Murana was doing her best to keep the majority of the flames away from his rear and tail.
Knowing she couldn't keep this up for long, she waged forward with purpose, swinging Steven back and forth, the immolating flames setting ablaze any pirate who was too slow or smart to run away. Each victim went up in a pyre of stinky conflagrations, their bodies writhing and wailing.
Satisfied that all who opposed them had turned tail, she calmly set Steven down beside her, small wisps of smoke still wafting up from his backside. He sheepishly looked up at her, covering himself with both paws and tail.
"I owe you some new pants, son." She promised, not meeting his eye.
"Ok, let's not speak of this again." He scratched the back of his head, not really sure how to address his mother at the current moment.
"Max!" She suddenly remembered about him. She looked over to where she last saw him. He had gone missing. "Max?!" She shouted again into the hangar. The only thing that returned was the sobbing of the cubs, kits and calves huddled in the far corner of the area. The rest of the pirates were either on fire, dead or scattered to regroup.
Ron finally appeared from the door leading to the engine room, his glasses flashing from the light as he surveyed the destruction around him. He spied the two of them and hurried over. "Things didn't go as planned. We're probably going to have to make an early landing."
She looked behind her as The Docks got more vivid in view. They were going to clear the canopy of the Rainforest District, but they were going to smash into something beyond it. "Ron, we need to escape this ship fast!" She pointed to the water on either side of the piers ahead of the Vulture. "I need you to help me gather the children up and hop off with them into the water. You're a better swimmer than any of us. Can you get them all to shore safely, please?"
Her pleading look could not be denied. He nodded with confidence, "I will do as you ask. Where shall I meet you?"
"Wherever this thing crashes, I'll probably be there, if we're still alive." The moaning of several charred corpses directed their attention to the immediate threat. "They're still not dead. We need to hurry!"
"What about Max?" Ron looked around for the raccoon.
Murana stifled back a cry, "I don't know."
"I'm sorry, Murana, but we got no time!" Ron had to state the harsh reality.
Nothing more needed to be said. Ron skittered over to the cubs and began relaying instructions for them to follow him. With that out of the way, she grabbed Steven by the paw and raced to the spiraling staircase leading back up to the balcony with which they entered the Vulture. They had reached the top catwalk before she glanced down to see how the evacuation was going.
Half the children were already leaping off into the water as best they could, some being prompted by their peers if they were too scared to jump on their own. Ron was doing his part protecting, wielding dual daggers, slicing and dicing up pirates as they came near. None could seem to get a finger on the otter as he circling around their bodies, stabbing and lopping off limbs. It turned into quite the bloodbath.
They reached the motorcycle at last, kicking the bulkhead door shut behind them. She propped it back up onto its wheels, placing Steven in front of her as she ignited the engines. The slant of the Vulture was making it hard for Murana to keep the bike upright as she prepared to make the leap to the nearest pier as it rushed past. She was already feeling exhausted.
"Mom? We're going to hit that Ferris wheel!" Steven covered his eyes, not wanting to look at the impending doom ahead of them.
"Not if we check out first!" She revved the motorcycle, twisting the handle a few times, getting it prepped.
Gauging the distance, she popped a wheelie and plowed forward, her back wheel going up and over the railing as she sailed through the air towards the nearest landing. Ignoring the blood-curdling shrieks of Steven, she aimed her front wheels to land on the center board closest to the amusement park entrance. They rammed down hard, tipping the bike over and flinging them both off the seat. Murana cried out as she landed on her side, rolling over and over with Steven clutched tight in her arms.
Steven wiggled out of her firm grasp, looking up as the Vulture flew past them and crashed into the lit up Ferris wheel. An uproar of alarmed howls diffused through the park as the lights on the attractions flickered and went out. Darkness descended on the boardwalk as multiple electrical lines got tangled up in the bulk of the Vulture, dragging the poles attached across the pier, slashing wide swaths of holes. The shifted landscape caused many of the rides and vendor's booths to slide and splash into the water, causing the guests to run away in terror.
The Vulture took the upper half of the Ferris wheel with it into its maw before hurtling into the lake beyond the docks. Geysers of water flew into the air as a cacophonous roar resounded throughout the northern portion of Zootopia. Several fiery explosions billowed out of the propellers as the gas from within the ballast balloons ignited, sending shockwaves across all the piers, shattering windows and pushing more of the damaged amusement park into the water along with their screaming occupants.
Transfixed by the destruction in front of him, Steven barely registered that Murana hadn't moved. Turning around to see her inert form, he began pawing at her face and arms, gently pushing her to get her to wake up. "Mom? Mom? Please get up! We need to go find Max. Mom?" Steven started to tear up the longer she remained motionless.
The crackling of static in her ear as Billy and Ralph switched back into the channel was what woke her up. "Murana? Murana, are you there? We just heard it crashed over by The Docks. We are sending the ZPD over to assist. We are enroute, tell us your status and location. Murana? Murana, are you there?" He continued to repeat.
"What the hell you doing that for?" She groaned, trying to get up onto her paws and knees. The pain was starting to ebb back; the soreness hadn't quite reached throbbing, but she wasn't feeling good. The adrenaline was gone and all she felt now was tired. "I thought the goal was not to involve every single person in Zootopia, especially the ZPD. I'd like to not get taken back to jail, please." She snarked.
"Hate to break it to you, toots," Billy said seriously, despite the jovial nature of the jab. "But you crossed that line when you involved Officer Grayz here. Besides, you know my meager medical supplies are gone now and I cannot take care of you. You need medical attention when this is all over and unfortunately, you'll have to be taken to the hospital whether it's with the ZPD or not. That's why I switched off. I knew you wouldn't approve of this."
"Your bedside manner sucks, Billy." She spit a glob of blood onto the wood, getting up the rest of the way.
"You'll probably be hearing the sirens soon, we're almost there." Billy remained on the line, even though he went silent.
"Mom? Are you okay? How do you feel?" Steven was distraught. She looked a mess. Her outfit was ripped and torn in various places, exposing fur and cuts. The laceration on her ribs had reopened, and there was a dark patch of red spreading freely along her side.
"I'll be fine, Steven." Murana held a paw to her side, clutching the wound.
Grimacing, the Ulfuram wearing off, she began staggering down the pier to loop back around to the far end of the docks to where the crash site was closest so they could potentially board and hopefully find Max. Steven trailed close behind, not wanting to leave her side for an instant. If there was a chance he could help her out, he was willing to be there for her.
Sure enough, they could hear the sirens and see the revolving red and blue splaying across the trees as the cop cruisers began bursting out of the tree line of the Rainforest District. Murana was almost to the downed Vulture, having come to a rest near the abandoned warehouses opposite the once pristine fairgrounds perched on the 22nd Pier. She had no idea where Ron and the children were, but she knew Max probably went down with the ship and that she needed to find him.
Dismissing the cops pulling up behind her, Murana kept trudging on, her mind set on a singular goal. She turned her head aside to give an askance look to Steven, "You might want to stay behind with them, little stinker." She waved a paw off in the direction of the ZPD.
Steven looked across the row of condemned buildings and shivered as he recalled the burned down one at the very end. That was the musk mill he had been imprisoned in for two years of his young life. His voice quivering, "I'll be alright, Mom. We're almost there."
Murana bowed her head in agreement. She could hear the slamming of doors behind her as the vehicles came to a stop, blocking off the path back down the dock. She went to thank Steven, but a loud bellow surprised them both. Before she could think, she felt a vice-like grip on her throat, lifting her into the air as her legs kicked out futilely, lungs gasping for air.
A soaking, large grey bulldog complete with a garish black top hat was chortling at her expense, looking mighty pleased with himself at having surprised her. "I was never quite likin' the name Dumptruck, but I do understand why they calls me that! Cuz I hits like a dump truck!" He guffawed heartily, slamming her into the pier and knocking the wind out of her.
"Leave her alone!" Steven was angry, trying to beat on him with little effect.
"Har, har! The little shrimp comes out to play, eh?" Dumptruck was loving this. "Don't worry, little guy. I can play with you all night long when I'm done here with dis wolf!" He whacked him away, causing Steven to tumble back and trip on his tail, making him fall to the ground in a heap.
"And I'm quite done with you!" Ralph brayed, galloping on all fours for the second time in his life deliberately.
Dumptruck didn't have time to react as he stupidly raised his face to see the oncoming wildebeest ram headlong into him at full speed. Murana sucked in air as the meaty paw was removed from her neck. Ralph continued to trade blows with the bulldog, seemingly having the upper hoof.
Vaguely aware of her surroundings, Murana began to crawl away. She thought she heard someone call out her name, but she ignored it. Her eyes locked onto the mirage of a fox before her, who was hanging back several yards away watching the struggle unfold. Slumped over his shoulder was the recognizable form of a raccoon.
"Max?" Murana croaked, continuing to creep forward on her stomach. "Max!" She yelled out, the vision becoming clearer.
This spooked Karnage, who seemed to have aged fifty years again. He took off running and dipped into the nearest warehouse alongside the old Musk Mill. Drawing upon the last of her strength, Murana willed herself to get onto her hind paws. She stumbled off to the side, barely missing the cluster that was Ralph and Dumptruck as they blew past her, each trying to gain the advantage.
The pain in her side was overpowering now. She was only able to make it a few paces down the walkway before having to rest. She looked back to see Dumptruck strangling the life out of Ralph. Other cops were already running down the pier, screaming for the bulldog to stop or they would shoot, but they wouldn't make it in time. The fight in Ralph was starting to wane as his life was being choked out. Even a wildebeest was no match for the raw power that was Dumptruck.
Murana was shocked as a dark mass splashed out of the water, toothed maw open wide. It grappled Dumptruck along the midriff, clamping down tight as it wriggled back and forth with its flippers off the edge into the water on the other side. It had only happened in a span of a few seconds, but the scuffle had ended as suddenly as it began. All that was left was the hacking coughs of Ralph as he attempted to recover.
"S-Sebastian?" Ralph heaved, trying to crawl over and look into the murky depths.
Murana looked down to see the weak form of Steven trying to get up when realization of what she still had left to do slammed into her mind. "Max…" She whispered.
Without a care for anything else, she followed the footsteps of Karnage, the world around her a blur. She banged the door open, letting it clang against the side. The element of surprise long gone, she wandered through the empty rooms, each covered in soot and dust. She did her best to remain stealthy, but her injuries were now affecting both her actions and judgment.
At last she rounded the bend, passing through a doorway that opened up into a grand warehouse room piled high with girder pallets and boxes. Ahead of her was Karnage. He was holding Max out at arm's length by the scruff of his neck, a gun aimed at his head. Max's eyes looked off, like he was drugged, as if Karnage had attempted a soul-sucking but was interrupted.
"At last we come to it, eh?" Karnage crowed. "The final curtain. Never in all my years did I ever expect to be taken down here, by you. However, if I'm going to go out with a bang, then I'll be taking a few souvenirs with me!" He cocked the gun audibly, growling as the action further injured his broken wrist.
Murana reached out both paws to stall him, taking a few steps forward. "No! You don't have to do this, Karnage! Take me back with you! I'll do anything you ask! Just let Max go! Take me!" She took a paw and tapped it to her chest.
Karnage raised an eyebrow, "As enticing as that sounds, you've lied to me far too many times." He gestured with his gun to his bitten ear. "And I promised myself never to fall prey to any feminine wiles ever again. You can tempt me all you want, but my goal is now and has always been to survive and live the life of luxury."
"I can help you with that!" She tried to reason with Karnage, continuing to take a few steps more, hoping to get within range so she could subdue him.
He resituated the gun back on Max's head. "Stop right there, my darling." He said, baring his teeth. "Only one of us is walking out of here alive and I think we both know who that is. You either let me suck the soul of your precious Max here, or I shoot him. Either way, you will watch him die. Then you'll know the pain I felt when I lost everything tonight."
"You sick piece of shit!" Murana snarled. "You can't even compare the two! Give him to me!" She made a dash for him, trying to pull out a few throwing stars to lob at his head.
"Shooting it is then." Karnage said emotionlessly as he pulled the trigger.
Murana's mouth opened in a silent cry of despair. She halted her forward momentum as she watched the red spatter blow out the other side of Max's head, his body falling limp to the cold, concrete flooring. His glazed eyes stared at Murana, reminding her of her failure. She went to a knee, weeping at the loss of Max.
Karnage coolly sauntered up to her, leveling his pistol at her face with his good paw. "We had some fun times, you and I, but like all good things…they must come to an end."
"Police! Stop right there!" Judy Hopps bounded into the room, followed close behind by Nick Wilde. Her gun was already out and loaded. Hitting the ground hard on her wounded leg, she stumbled and began rolling.
"Mother of pearl, Judy! I said to take it easy, but would you listen?" Nick reprimanded.
Without missing a beat, Karnage brought his arm up and began firing. Continuing the roll behind a crate, Judy retorted, "Not until this is over!"
Nick rolled to the side as Judy came out from behind the container and in unison they blew out Karnage's kneecaps. He dropped to the floor yelping, his weapon clattering away. Using the opportunity, Murana rose up with a sharpened star and stabbed him in the neck. With him gurgling on fresh blood, she calmly picked up his gun and pressed the cold metal in-between his eyes.
"Mrs. Wolford, you don't want to do that!" Judy called out to Murana, her own weapon still trained on Karnage.
"The Dark Flame Wolf is Mrs. Wolford?" Nick turned his head in surprise to Judy.
"Yes, Nick. Try to keep up!" She hissed out the side of her mouth.
"I believe I do want to do this." Murana was at peace now as she cocked the pistol for the final time. Karnage looked at her with abject fear, knowing she had every intention of following through.
"Mrs. Wolford, stop or I will shoot!" Judy shifted her focus to Murana.
"He raped me. He took my innocence. He destroyed what childhood I had left. He made it impossible for me to bear children, and now he has murdered Max. I will kill him." She put her finger through the trigger ring, preparing to squeeze.
"Mom! Don't do this! Let go of me!" Steven squirmed his way out of several cops' paws, doing his best to evade capture in trying to reach Murana. "Don't kill anymore! I don't want them to put you away forever! I can't bear to lose you again! Please!" He couldn't hold back the tears.
Murana paused, her finger shaking. "He took everything away from me…he took your future brother away, Steven." She locked eyes with him. "Don't you want revenge for that?"
"Yes…but not like this! Please, you're better than him…you're my Mom!" Steven pleaded, his eyes widening like saucers. "I love you…"
"Yeursh…" Karnage gargled on red spit. "Lishen to yur shon!"
"Shut up!" She bitch-slapped him with the butt of the gun. "You are going to die!"
"Mom! No! Please!" Steven wailed.
She was heaving now, both from wrath and from the pain of her reopened injuries. She wouldn't be able to stand on her own two hind paws for much longer. Everyone stood still, waiting to see what she would do. She turned from Steven, to Karnage, to Max and back to Karnage. She let loose a rage-filled howl directly into his face, digging the barrel of the pistol into his forehead, causing the Don to wince. She wanted to kill him. He deserved to die.
"Mom…" Steven said softly, shaking his head as he stared at her.
The gun she held fired.
This entire action sequence was freaking amazing to plan out. I had way more ideas to jampack in here, but if I had done that, this chapter would have been twice as long. I needed to keep the plot and action moving forward and not dwell on any one setpiece for too long, lest readers get bored. So I chose about one-two good ideas and fleshed them out for each section and continued to progress Murana through her preset goals of getting Steven back and then the final confrontation with Don Karnage. My favorite idea that originated from a talk nearly two years ago with Berserker88 was the skunk flamethrower. I even researched skunk musk to see if it was even flammable - it is. I'm very happy with how the entire chapter turned out.
For the longest time, since the beginning writing this story, I knew it would end this way. Whether it was with Max or Steven was never certain, but I knew a face-to-face confrontation with Don Karnage and the choice of having to kill him or not was always going to be the climax of the story. All roads led to this point and it had to feel earned. Everything we've learned about Murana, and everything we know about her relationships and what Don Karnage has done to her in life, all of this had to be justified and given proper weight throughout the story. This pivotal moment needed to feel impactful and hold real gravity. It took me several rewrites to finally get it right, even to the point of forgetting that Judy had an injured leg! But she was just as critical at being here to witness this for later events to happen, so I had to make some last minute adjustments both in this chapter and the next to explain her appearance here. After all is said and written, hopefully this scene hits home for the readers who had traveled this tumultuous journey with Murana.